Friday, January 30, 2009

Mucha and hallucinogenics

It's been a busy January and I haven't gotten around to a post in a while but hopefully it's worth the wait...

The first time I saw a work by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) in one of my Graphic Design II text books, I was totally blown away by the art nouveau style that he represented. Mucha began designing posters for French actresses at the turn of the century and though his style was unconventional, he became a pop icon and influenced many aspects of French culture, from clothing to architecture -- referred to as "Le style Mucha."

I'm trying to find out where Mucha studied and where he got his inspiration, but it was around this time that artists and writers such as Hemmingway and Van Gogh were experimenting with absinthe -- a hallucinogenic drink popular in France, described as a "flavoured distilled liquor, emerald green in colour, turning to cloudy, opalescent white when mixed with water." I hear you can still get it in Amsterdam and it pretty much makes you psychotic but rumor has it that Hemmingway wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls" high on the juice.
Aside the fact that Mucha did commissioned work for Absinthe, it is easy to assume from the overly-dramatic figures and magical quality of his work that he was on something.

There is no doubt that art nouveau posters such as Mucha's inspired '60s and '70 psychedelic poster art (See Dead poster) or at least best represented that movement; and art nouveau is as fresh today as it was at the turn of the century.

I'll be posting my response to art noveau in a series of poster art within the next week, with the first one coming very soon.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A strange bird

For centuries in some cultures, certain birds, most notably cranes, are held above all that is earthly and considered god-like. In Tibetan culture for instance, cranes are thought to be reincarnated ancestors. They are allowed to wander where they please and even eat what little food may be around (kind of like cows in Hindu culture...and rats in the Middle East). Cranes hold a similar symbolic significance in Japan, where they often appear in mythology and art representing peace. It is evident that Egyptians also worshipped certain birds as they often appear as symbols in their alphabet, the crane or heron being associated with longevity as well as spirit (see below).

In the wetlands of North America, the Great Blue Heron is a symbol of a healthy ecosystem. Wetlands are hotbeds of biodiversity and when heron exist, it means nothing is contaminated (as herons eat fish, fish eat smaller fish and bugs, ect.). I'm not a bird-watcher, but it's pretty cool to see a heron. See them walking in the distance and you can easily picture how a dinosaur might have roamed around.

My poster art is a sort of tribute to the Blue Heron and biodiversity and is the culmination of over dozens of sketches and paintings. After not being able to capture a bold enough effect with paint, I decided to do most of it in Adobe Illustrator; however, I've attached a couple sketches below that show an original illustration and a sketch that most resembles the finish product.

Help preserve wetlands by contributing to local Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy chapters. These are no-bull organizations that put your money to good use.

(P.S. the cas:ev logo is something that evolved out of the poster)

Thanks for tuning in...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Praying (for) Mantis

JDK design

I thought I'd share this link with everyone (a.k.a. TJ) while I work on my next post:

JDK Design is an incredibly innovative design firm with locations in Burlington, Vt. and NYC. They handle major ad campaigns and design oversight for the likes of Xbox 360, Nike, Merrell, Patagonia, Burton snowboards and the infamous and totally corporate Bonnarroo Festival (Let's hope Phil and Friends don't have to follow up Kanye West this year). They occassionally host or co-sponsor design, photography and music shows in Burlington that are worth checking out.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A foot in the door

A few months ago I met with a well-respected owner of a small design firm in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY, named Rich Kline. Rich is principle owner of Shannon Rose Design, which specializes in web and graphic design.

The meeting was set up by a mutual acquaintance and was a very informal sit-down; not an interview. Rich was simply going to give me general advice about how to begin a career in graphic design. While I knew the meeting wouldn't lead to a job, I was genuinely excited and nervous about meeting a man that had built a successful firm with little other than passion, a dream and some good-old ingenuity.

For the meeting, I would have to eat my pride. My portfolio was heavy on writing clips and light on design work. My concentration in graphic design didn't require I take a portfolio-building class, which -- I've come to learn -- is the most important class in the design curriculum, as it's the culmination of all your hard work. Needless to say, I'm glad it wasn't a formal interview.

So I arrived at the studio with an open mind and empty hands, hoping to take something away rather than lay something on the table. Let me just say, something about a design studio turns me on. Every time I've visited a studio I get the same familiar shiver of excitement. Maybe it's the creative energy in the air ... Whatever the case, Shannon Rose was no exception. The high ceilings, hardwood floors, natural light, bold advertising posters adorning the walls, the works.

It was very quiet. Rich was working at his computer. He greeted me, gave me a brief tour of the two floors of the studio then we sat a large wooden table and dialogue commenced.

I told him about my my passion to be a designer and how I was frustrated that a lack of a bachelor's degree in design had been holding me back. He reinforced much of what I already knew: that I needed a good portfolio and that the best way to do it was to essentially do what I'd been doing, which is pro-bono freelance design work and networking with other designers.

He also presented to me his theory of how, in today's approach to design, print advertising is only one component in a larger circle that encompasses a brand. He told me that a job starts with a solid plan on paper, and branches off into print and web from there; with an emphasis on web.

He used his current project with the boat manufacturer as an example, showing me draft plans, sketches, ect. We then walked upstairs and I got a look at the designers (a total of four) implementing the plan -- halfway through the web development of an ultra-sleek, super-cool flash Web site. As we peered over one of the developer's shoulder, a less tech-inclined Rich told him he wanted to see the boats "change color." The developer began effortlessly typing code and, Voila! Nifty trick ...

The other designers were working on different aspects of the site, all of them all-stars at what they do. One of the designers introduced himself and politely excused himself from the encounter because he had a concert to go to. I wondered if it was the same one I was going to that evening. Either way, I loved the casualness of it.

Upon leaving, I felt fortunate. I was given an intimate tour of working design studio and saw professionals at work -- something I was never given the chance to do at school. I had also extended my network to include a few designers, including the owner of a firm. I know it might be presumptuous for me too think I'll land a job like that one day, but as long as I know it exists, it's a level to attain.

One piece of advice Rich gave me that I wasn't expecting, was to create a blog that would showcase both my writing and design. He showed me a couple blogs he followed and seemed really excited about how a blog can function as a working portfolio.

Well, here it is, Rich. My first blog. Thanks for the great advice and a memorable experience.

Let the evolution begin...

A side...

P.S. All photo illustrations and designs (like the one below) are, unless otherwise noted, original works. Please feel free to critique the artwork and writing as harshly (or as kindly) as you like. -J